Showing posts with label Detroit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Detroit. Show all posts

02 July 2018

July 1958: Profaci infuriates McClellan Committee

On this date in 1958...

Profaci
New York City-based Mafia boss Joseph Profaci, accompanied by attorney Samuel Paige, appeared July 2, 1958, before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee). Conflict between the committee and the underworld-boss witness was evident from the opening seconds of the testimony.
Chairman John L. McClellan:   State your name, your place of residence, and your business or occupation.
Joseph Profaci:   Joseph Profaci, 8863 Fifteenth Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.
Chairman:   What is your business or occupation, please?
Profaci:   I refuse to answer on the ground it might be incriminating me.
Chairman:   You what?
Profaci:   I refuse to answer on the ground...
Chairman:   I don't think you better use the word "refuse." I think that shows disrespect for your government. Do you want to place yourself in that attitude?
Profaci:   I am sorry.
Chairman:   I would use the word "decline." [1]
Senator Irving McNeil Ives, committee vice chairman, got involved in this conversation, and it was established that Profaci was reading his refusal to answer from a piece of paper provided by his attorney. Profaci said he misread the paper, on which was written, "I respectfully refuse..." Following that explanation, Ives suggested to Profaci and attorney Paige that "decline" would be a more appropriate term than "refuse."

The committee then attempted to move back to the issue of Profaci's business but instantly found itself back where it started.
Chairman: Do I understand that you are stating to this committee that if you answered the question as to what is your business or occupation, that a truthful answer to that question might tend to incriminate you?
Profaci: I refuse to answer...
Senator Ives: I wish you would stop using that word "refuse."
Profaci: I decline to answer. I am sorry.

Senator McClellan ordered Profaci to answer whether a truthful explanation of his line of work could be incriminating to Profaci. Profaci attempted to decline again. The chairman pointed out that it could not possibly be incriminating to answer whether he believed another answer would be incriminating. Profaci yielded to that logic and answered, "Yes, I believe" that stating his business would be incriminating. [2]

Though committee members made an issue of Profaci's refusal to answer this rather superficial question, it was hardly surprising. The previous day, reputed Mafiosi James V. LaDuca, Rosario Mancuso and Louis A. Larasso cited the Fifth Amendment in their refusals to answer all manner of questions.[3]

Robert Kennedy
The committee already had an idea of Profaci's business. A summary provided by Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy's investigative staff as the Mafia hearings opened described Profaci: "At Apalachin meeting. Owner of Carmela Mia Packing Co. Number of arrests in Italy and United States. An old-time, well established gangster." [4]

McClellan conferred with counsel Kennedy about whether Profaci was under indictment. "I don't believe he is," Kennedy responded. McClellan attempted to find out by asking Profaci, but received only "I decline to answer on the ground it may be incriminating to me" from the witness.

The chairman turned questioning over to the chief counsel. Kennedy attempted to open things up on a friendly basis. That didn't last long.
Chief Counsel Robert Kennedy: Mr. Profaci, we had a talk yesterday, a nice conversation; did we not? Didn't we have a little talk in the office?
Profaci: I decline to answer.
Kennedy: Mr. Profaci, your English was so much better yesterday. What has happened in the last twenty-four hours?
Profaci: I don't catch your words right.
Kennedy: You don't?
Profaci: I don't catch you.
Kennedy: You caught it awfully well yesterday, Mr. Profaci. You spoke very good and you understood everything I said.
Profaci: If you will be patient, I will catch it.
Kennedy: I don't have to be. Yesterday you spoke very freely and easily. Your accent has gotten so bad today. What happened overnight, Mr. Profaci? You understood and answered all the questions I asked you yesterday, and you spoke very easily, with very little accent. What has happened since?
Profaci: I don't catch the words right when you use big words.[5]

Profaci subsequently revealed that he was born in Palermo and became an American citizen. He hesitated to discuss his birth date, his arrival in the U.S. and his naturalization. He declined to answer questions about his early days in Chicago, visit to Joseph Barbara's home at Apalachin, family connections to the Toccos and Zerillis of Detroit, links to union officials and other associates, import/export businesses and investments in clothing manufacturing firms. When Detective Thomas O'Brien came forward to outline Profaci's arrest record in Italy and the United States, Profaci refused to confirm any aspect of the record. [6]

O'Brien and Kennedy stated that Profaci had been arrested at an apparent Mafia convention in Cleveland on December 5, 1928. Profaci would not discuss it. Vice Chairman Ives took the opportunity to ask a direct question.
Ives: May I interrupt? I would like to ask him: Are you a member of the Mafia?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it might be incriminating.
Ives: ...Are you a member or aren't you?
Profaci: No; I decline to answer. No, sir.
Ives: You are not?
Profaci: No, sir.
Ives: You are under oath, you know?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it may tend to incriminate me.[7]

Senator McClellan (left), Robert Kennedy (right).
Senator Mundt drew the committee's attention to correspondence from Attorney General William P. Rogers that indicated Profaci might be subject to deportation proceedings. That was generally acknowledged as a possible motivation for Profaci's refusal to answer the questions put to him. [8] Chairman McClellan attempted to resolve the issue, but probably should have known better.
Chairman: Would you like to advise us whether deportation proceedings are now pending against you or not?
Profaci: (Conferred for a time with his attorney.) I don't get you, Senator, excuse me. I am sorry.
Chairman: Let me see if I can get it to you so you will get it. Has any action been started to deport you? You know what "deport" means, don't you?
Profaci: Yes, sir.
Chairman: You know what that means?
Profaci: Yes.
Chairman: Is the government now attempting to deport you from this country?
Profaci: I decline to answer on the ground it may incriminate me.[9]

That was all McClellan could take. In halting the questioning of Profaci, he called for a transcript of the testimony to be sent to the Department of Justice to aid in the denaturalization and deportation of Profaci: 
We should rid the country of characters who come here from other lands and take advantage of the great freedom and opportunity our country affords, who come here to exploit these advantages with criminal activities. They do not belong to our land, and they ought to be sent somewhere else. In my book, they are human parasites on society, and they violate every law of decency and humanity.... [10]
When he opened the committee's Mafia-related hearings on June 30, Chairman McClellan stated, "There exists in America today what appears to be a close-knit, clandestine, criminal syndicate. This group has made fortunes in the illegal liquor traffic during Prohibition, and later in narcotics, vice and gambling. These illicit profits present the syndicate with a financial problem, which they solve through investment in legitimate business. These legitimate businesses also provide convenient cover for their continued illegal activities...

"In these hearings, and the ones to follow, we are going to call in some of the leading figures in the national criminal hierarchy. These people are all involved in legitimate enterprises, management and labor... As a starting point for our hearings, we intend to focus on the criminal group which held a meeting at the home of Joseph Mario Barbara, Sr., in Apalachin, N.Y., on November 14, 1957. The discovery of this meeting by the New York State Police had the effect of revealing the scope of the interrelationships of some of the leaders of the national crime syndicate..."[11]

Notes:
  1.  Hearings before the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field (McClellan Committee), Part 32 - "Mafia," 85th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1958, p. 12337-12338.
  2.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12338.
  3.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12231-12321.
  4.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12199.
  5.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12339
  6.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12339-12349, 12351-12353.
  7.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12346.
  8.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12353-12357.
  9.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12357.
  10.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12357.
  11.  Hearings, Part 32, p. 12192-12193.

18 April 2018

Motor City Mayhem



Detroit was suffering a stifling heatwave on September 3, 1927 when William Gilbreath was driving home at ten p.m. Though somewhat late in the evening, the sidewalks were still teeming with pedestrians and the streets were full of cars. During his trip, Gilbreath remembered that he needed to pick something up from the drug store. Seeing one on the corner he pulled his car to the curb and hopped out. As he approached the store he heard a voice from behind, “Get back in that car and don’t make any fuss about it.” He turned to find a younger man brandishing a gun. Two other men turned the corner and closed in. They escorted Gilbreath back to his car and ordered him to get behind the wheel. One of the men climbed in the front seat with him and the other two hopped in the back. Once they were all in the car, the other two guys drew thirty-eights from their pockets. To Gilbreath’s shock, none of the numerous pedestrians who were walking or driving by seemed to notice the kidnapping.
     “Drive around the block.” The gunman up front demanded.
Gilbreath followed the order. After a bit, the gunman jammed his thirty eight into Gilbreath’s side.
     “All right, you, stop this car and climb in the back.”
Gilbreath switched places with one of the gunmen and for the next two hours they drove around searching for a place to rob. The bandits pulled up to a handful of drug stores with the intention of robbing them but, each time, decided that there were too many customers inside. At 11:15 they pulled into a gas station owned and operated by Ted Malm. The driver told Malm to” fill ‘er up” and, when the proprietor came around to collect payment, instead of cash, he found the business end of a thirty-eight.
“Get in.” the driver commanded. Malm climbed into the car as two of the gunmen walked into the station and helped themselves to the cash in the register.

With their new prisoner, the bandits continued to drive around looking for opportunities. After a while they decided to rob a pedestrian. Just then they saw a guy enter the court to an apartment building and two of the gunmen leapt from the car and approached him. One of them called out to the man, Edmund Weiner, a mechanic who worked for the Ford Motor Company, as he was about to enter the building. As Weiner turned to reply the gunman smashed him over the head with the butt of his gun. Weiner let out a scream and the gunmen proceeded to beat him as he tried to fight them off. Weiner’s yells filled the air as one of the bandits continued to beat him over the head with his pistol while dragging him from the courtyard out to the street. Weiner was pulled to the car and tossed in the back.

Inside the auto it was discovered that Weiner only had two nickels in cash. This, and the fact that he wouldn’t stop screaming, led all of the bandits to start wailing on him again. Pleading for his life, Weiner cried that he had a wife and two daughters to support. The hoodlums couldn’t have cared less. They continued to rain blows down upon him as he persisted in his screaming. A few minutes passed and one of the bandits jumped behind the wheel and pulled away while another yelled at the wounded man to be quiet.

After a short drive, the bandits pulled over and told their three captives to get out and lie on the ground. After searching them for anything of value, one of the gunmen warned the trio that if they got up too soon, they would “get their damn heads blown off.” The bandits got back in Gilbreath’s car and drove off. Gilbreath and Malm helped Weiner to a drug store where some citizens offered to drive him to the hospital. Unfortunately, Weiner took to many blows to his head; he died of his wounds the following morning.


With the brutal slaying of Wiener, the case became well publicized. All of the Detroit newspapers demanded police action, which was slow in coming. In an interview, Gilbreath mentioned that during the ride, they drove past a couple of beat cops standing on a corner. One of the gunmen said that they should bump them off, but another stated that he knew one of the cops. Detroiters wondered why a police officer would be friendly with a gun toting thug. Within a few days, six ranking police officers were walking a beat for being in “contact with the criminal element.” Around the same time, the front page of the Detroit Times quoted Weiner’s wife as saying, “May God punish the murderers of my husband. I don’t know what we can do. We are penniless now without his salary. My baby girl keeps asking where Daddy is but I cannot tell her for she is too young to understand.”

Through the Detroit Times, Gilbreath set up a fund for Weiner’s family and over the next few weeks donations came pouring into the Times. In all, Weiner’s widow was presented with over $5,400. Some folks offered their services. A cobbler offered free shoe repair for a year and a bakery pledged a free loaf of bread every day for the same amount of time.

On September 14, Detroit Police got their first break in the case. While searching for clues regarding a string of drug store robberies, detectives were canvassing the establishments that had been held up and walked into the Saylor Drug Store to question the clerks. When two of the detectives entered, (a third remained in the car) they noticed that no clerks were about. Assuming that they were in the back whipping up prescriptions, they waited. After a moment a guy walked out from the rear of the store. As he walked around the counter, he smiled at the detectives and said, “Well, goodnight boys!” before exiting the store. The detectives got a bad vibe from him but assumed that the drug store was doubling as a speakeasy and the guy simply had a drink or two. Moments later another guy walked out but this one had a gun in his hand and caught the detectives off guard. “Stick ‘em up, both of you.” He barked.

The detectives complied but since there was about six feet distance between them, the gunman had to swing his pistol back and forth to cover each man. At one point his eyes fell on one of the detectives’ pocket watch. Seizing the opportunity, the other detective drew his gun and fired. The first bullet hit the bandit under the arm and pierced his chest. The bandit turned and fired a wild shot as three more slugs slammed into his body. The hoodlum staggered, reached out and grabbed the pocket watch he had been eyeing and dropped to the floor. He gave his name as Robert Meyers and died a half hour later at the hospital. Gilbreath and Malm were brought to the morgue where they identified Meyers as both the leader of the desperadoes and the driver of the car, the night of Weiner’s murder.


Gilbreath (L) and Malm (R) Identify Meyers


A week after Meyers got his, police received a tip that two questionable men were living in a cottage in nearby Gross Pointe Park. After staking out the joint for the better part of the evening, detectives went in and arrested both men and their girlfriends. One of the guys arrested turned out to be the man who exited the drug store saying, “Well, good night boys!” the other was the getaway driver (Police were unaware that there was a driver that day. During his confession he stated that, when he saw the detectives pull up to the drug store, he honked the horn as a warning and took off.)
Both men admitted to being accomplices of Meyers but denied being in on the Weiner murder. Gilbreath and Malm were brought in and both stated that neither bandit was involved. The gunmen told detectives that Meyers worked with a handful of different bandits but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give any names. It didn’t matter because the next day another one of the hoodlums fell to police bullets.


At three-fifteen the following afternoon, a patrol was standing on the corner when a pedestrian came up and told him that he had been robbed on September 12, and that he just saw the man who did it. The citizen pointed him out and the officer started for the suspect. Seeing the officer approach, the suspect dodged behind a tree and drew a pistol. The officer did likewise and both men started shooting at each other. After a few volleys the desperado let out scream and fell to the ground. His cheek had been pierced by a bullet. Assuming his man was down for good, the officer approached and went to disarm him. The gunman had some fight left in him however, and the two began to grapple for control of the cop’s gun. The bandit wrestled it free and shot the officer in the stomach. As the policeman crumpled to the ground, the gunman ran off. Two citizens rushed the officer to the hospital where he made a full recovery.

Meanwhile, cops began combing the neighborhood looking for the gunman who had ran into a nearby garage. Inside was the homeowner and the hoodlum forced him into the house at gunpoint. The desperado told him to hide him in a closet. The homeowner opened a door, “Get into the closet with me.” The gunman ordered. As the gunman hid himself behind some clothes, a police officer entered the house. The homeowner jumped from the closet doorway and the cop pushed the clothes out of the way and fired into the gunman. With a bullet in his belly, the hoodlum dropped to the floor and began groaning for his mother.

At the hospital the hoodlum identified himself as nineteen- year- old Joe Subko of Akron, Ohio. Gilbreath and Malm were brought in to take a look at him. Without hesitation, Gilbreath identified him as the man who had assaulted Weiner. Although Malm was reasonably certain that Subko was the man, he asked if he could see him dressed in street clothes to make sure. During this time, Subko died of his wounds, so they dressed him in his clothes and let Malm take another look. Once this was done Malm declared him the man.


Subko redressed for identification. Note bullet hole in cheek.



It turned out that Subko was also a mini-crime wave of his own independent of Meyers. Victims of, who the police called, the “Hitch Hike Bandit” an armed man who robbed numerous motorist that picked him up, were also called in and identified Subko as the bandit. Though Gilbreath, Malm and Mrs. Weiner received some satisfaction in the wiping out of Meyers and Subko, unfortunately for Justice, the third man involved in the kidnappings and robberies was never found out.


References

“Snaring Detroit’s Kidnapping Killers” True Detective Mysteries November 1934
“3 Thugs Kidnap W.S. Gilbreath, Slay Another” Detroit Free Press, September 5, 1927
"Familiarity Of Thugs And Cops Under Inquiry"St. Joseph Herald Press September 6, 1927
“Officer Defies Robber’s Gun, Kills Bandit” Detroit Free Pres, September 15, 1927
“Crook Mental Test Failure Blow To Police” Detroit Free Press, September 17, 1927
“Hat Identifies Leader of Weiner’s Slayers” Detroit Free Press, September 18, 1927
“Man Slain, Second Dying After Battles With Policemen”, Detroit Free Press September 24, 1927
“Second Weiner Slayer Killed By Policeman’s Bullet”, Detroit Free Press September 25, 1927

15 May 2017

Perhaps he should have knocked first



On this date in 1932, two Detroit gangsters, Sam and Andrew Farrera. were doing some business in Toledo, Ohio when some local gangsters decided that they didn’t need any Motor City hoodlums muscling in. The Farreras, and another guy, were parked in their cousin's driveway when a car load of rivals pulled up and opened fire. The windshield of the Ferraras’ car shattered, sending glass into Sam’s eyes. His vision impaired, Sam managed to slip from the car and dive through a basement window. His brother caught a bullet in the hand.


After the first barrage, the attackers pulled around the corner and one of them, John Incorvaia, alias Engoria, 33, jumped from the auto and returned to the house with an automatic pistol. Not bothering to knock, Incorvaia rushed into the house and opened fire. Moments later he dropped dead with two bullet wounds, one of which pierced his head. Mabel Candela, a cousin of the Ferreras, confessed to the shooting saying that she fired in self-defense. 


03 May 2017

Michigan mobster Joe Tocco succumbs

May 3, 1938: At four o'clock in the afternoon, Detroit Mafioso Joe Tocco died at Wyandotte General Hospital of gunshot wounds suffered the previous night.

Tocco, a native of Terrasini, Sicily, was regarded as a leader of the Detroit area's West Side gang and may have succeeded as boss of that organization following the February 7, 1931, murder of boss Cesare "Chester" LaMare. Authorities knew him as the "beer baron of Wyandotte" and as organizer of rackets in downriver communities. He had been arrested eleven times since 1915 - on charges including murder, arson, bootlegging and income tax evasion - but had never been convicted. At the time of his murder, he was the proprietor of the Kitty Kat Beer Garden, 635 South Bayside Avenue. About six months earlier, he shut down a gambling establishment.

At nine-thirty in the evening of May 2, Tocco parked his scarlet red sedan on Antoine Street and emerged. Shots were immediately fired at him from a shotgun and a revolver. Tocco ran from the car to the rear door of 215 Antoine Street, home of his longtime friend James Palazzola. As he ran, the guns continued to fire.

The gunfire halted as Tocco stumbled through the doorway into Palazzola's kitchen. Tony Bozzo, a neighbor of Palazzola, took Tocco to the hospital. Police interviewed Tocco in his hospital room, but the Mafioso claimed he was unable to identify the shooters.

Early in the morning of May 3, Tocco received a blood transfusion from his brother Peter and went into surgery. Doctors tended to six bullet wounds in the gang boss's back. Four slugs were removed. The damage to Tocco's internal organs was too great to repair. Tocco died of internal hemorrhage that afternoon.

Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1938.
An hour after his death, some children, playing in a field about 100 yards from the scene of the Tocco shooting, found a sawed-off shotgun in a ditch. Police determined that the gun had been fired twice and then jammed. It contained four unfired shells.

The authorities considered the possibility that Tocco was killed as the result of a romantic affair. While he was married and had children, Tocco was reportedly spending a good deal of his time with Mrs. Gina Rossi, wife of a former Tocco business partner. There was also suspicion that out-of-town gunmen had been brought in to murder Tocco. The previous Friday, two men asked Wyandotte police officers for directions to Tocco's beer garden establishment.

It appears that Tocco may have been eliminated in order to cement a new East-West alliance in the Detroit underworld. In later years, the Detroit Mafia, commanded by Joseph Zerilli, William "Black Bill" Tocco (said to be no relation of Joe Tocco) and Angelo Meli, was referred to by such nicknames as "The Partnership" and "The Combination."

Sources:

  • "LaMare, lord of West Side, assassinated," Escanaba MI Daily Press, Feb. 8, 1931, p. 1.
  • "Police arm to trap steel-clad gangster," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 11, 1931, p. 2.
  • "Tocco, Sciacca freed on bail," Detroit Free Press, Dec. 11, 1931, p. 8.
  • "Blasts wreck Tocco's home," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 22, 1932, p. 1.
  • "Police discover evidence of arson in debris of bootleg king's abode," Detroit Free Press, Feb. 23, 1932, p. 13.
  • "Ex-run chief shot in gang war outbreak," Port Huron MI Times Herald, May 3, 1938, p. 1.
  • "Two men and a woman sought in Tocco slaying," Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1938, p. 1.
  • "Joe Tocco, ex-beer baron, dies with lips sealed on identity of slayer," Lansing MI State Journal, May 4, 1938, p. 1.
  • "Detroit tavern keeper killed," Escanaba MI Daily Press, May 4, 1938, p. 2.
  • "Tocco's love affairs probed as police question relatives," Detroit Free Press, May 5, 1938, p. 1.
  • Michigan Deaths and Burials Index, Ancestry.com.


Additional information on Prohibition Era Detroit and its involvement in the U.S. Mafia's Castellammarese War can be found in DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Vol. 1 by Thomas Hunt and Michael A. Tona